Malaysian bloggers unite against defamation lawsuit
After I visited Malaysian Borneo in 2004, the country has always intrigued and interested me. While I was fascinated by the rich mixtures of cultures and religions that make up the Malaysian society, and while Malaysia certainly seems like a more modern country than many of its neighbours, I soon enough got the feeling that Malaysia is not exactly a modern democracy, at least not by western standards.
Much of the traditional media in Malaysia are controlled – and censored – by political parties or by the government, and there is no real freedom of expression. Criticism of government policies in the local media is rare and blogs have emerged as a popular alternative. This may be about to change. The other day, I stumbled across Malaysian blogger Susan Loone´s report on the two Malaysian bloggers Jeff Ooi and Ahirudin Attan who now face lawsuits over allegedly defamatory posts. This might seem fair enough by first glance, but when you know that almost all Malaysian media are government owned and/or controlled, and that these bloggers are being sued by pro-government newspaper New Straits Times, things seem a little scarier, don´t they?
Malaysian bloggers, including Loone, fear that NSTs agenda amounts to an attempt to censor and ultimately shut down the two bloggers, and the suits have raised fears that the freedom of online media may be in jeopardy. Malaysian bloggers have now rallied around a petition where they claim freedom of speech and “a space on the blogosphere for free and fair comment, where important national issues and prominent personalities are discussed.”
The Malaysian bloggers are not the only ones suspecting foul play.
Reporters Without Borders has written to the CEO of the New Strait Times, Syed Faisal Albar, urging him to intervene on behalf of two bloggers.
“We believe that this case is groundless,” wrote Reporters Without Borders. “It looks to us as though legal procedures are being used as a way of silencing two of your newspaper’s critics.”